Benito’s Hat, London

it was an impromptu decision to check this little mexican place out, when our original plans to eat at nearby lantana were foiled because we arrived at the awkward time between 1130am and noon when the cafe was no longer serving breakfast and had yet to start serving lunch.

located along goodge street, benito’s hat is hugely popular with the lunchtime crowd as evidenced by the snaking queue which had formed outside the shop when we were leaving. their menu is simple – burritos, tacos, salads (naked burritos – basically a burrito without the wrap) and soups. service is efficient and food is made to order at the counter:
in action

all of us opted for burritos that day – we could choose from chicken, pork and a beef special as the meat filling (grilled veggies are also available for vegetarians), and for the toppings you have the choice of adding cheese/sourcream/lettuce/beans (choose from 2 types!)/rice. choose a sauce from the range that varies in spiciness, add some guacamole if you want, and you have your meal all ready to go! here’s the menu on the blackboards:20140117_115328

most people seemed to be getting takeaway, but they do have seats in the shop if you prefer to enjoy your food in-store. the burritos are pretty huge, and they’re all served with a side of nachos:

the nachos were a nice addition but were missing some sauce or cheese slathered on top. as for the burritos, they were literally bursting with ingredients and their weight was testament to that fact – i was surprised at how heavy mine was when i lifted it to remove the foil! needless to say, it was extremely filling. in fact, i would say that its possible to share one between two small eaters!

braised pork burrito with guacamole – £5.90 + 70p

i had my burrito with braised pork, and added guacamole for an additional 70p. i actually felt that 70p for the rather small amount of guacamole they added was quite pricey, but what is mexican food without guacamole! avo is always too good to pass on…
the burrito was VERY satisfying. the greens added were fresh, toppings were added generously (besides the guacamole as mentioned above), the braised pork was juicy and tasty, and the refried beans (you can choose between these and black beans) were delicious. it was a wrap that was bursting with flavour and was made even more yummy by the fact that it was freshly-made and warm! trust me, you’ll definitely get your mexican craving satisfied with this hearty goodness.

i imagined a serious carb overload if i added rice to the mix, so i asked not to have any added, but here’s my friend’s burrito which had rice in it: (sorry not a very appetising picture i know!)20140117_120017

we were completely stuffed by the time we had made our way through the burritos, but there’s always room for dessert right? 😉 and thankfully we all embraced the idea of desserts going into a separate stomach and decided to order some sweet treats to share, because the desserts were the highlight of our quick lunch there!20140117_122652
bunuelos: crispy strips of tortilla with cinnamon, sugar and real vanilla ice cream – £3.25

we were really excited when we saw this arrive at our table because we weren’t really sure what to expect and this looked like nothing we had tried before! the strips of tortilla were thin and crispy (just as they were described) and coated in just the right amount of cinnamon and sugar to give them a light sweetness that went perfectly with the vanilla ice cream which was thick and smooth. the oil used to fry the tortillas was fresh and because of how thin the strips were, they made for a lighter and seemingly less oily treat than churros would have been. it actually reminded me of a sweet dessert prata (for the uninformed, this is a delicious singaporean-indian flatbread/pancake-esque thing)!

20140117_122940tres leches cake – £3.75

we actually wanted to order the flan but it wasn’t available that day, so this is what we ended up getting and boy, were we glad we did! definitely worthy of first-pick status instead of the second choice status we relegated it to. the cake was amazingly dense and moist while not being too heavy, while the fresh cream that accompanied it was super duper light. the milky sauce that the cake was drenched in was sweet (maybe too sweet for some people), but not cloyingly so. this was really the highlight of our lunch that day, and this tres leches cake was still referred to with great enthusiasm when it came up in conversation recently, so that’s definitely a sign of deliciousness 😉 it was a pretty generous slice too, so the price you pay for it is rather reasonable.

benito’s hat was a pretty random find on a random friday afternoon, but it probably isn’t going to be random to me very much longer because i’ll be back when i’m looking for a simple, fuss-free mexican meal! they also have a happy hour from 5pm-7pm daily, where cocktails (watermelon/pomegranate/strawberry margarita, anyone?) are 2-for-1 – a pretty good deal worth checking out 🙂


Benito’s Hat

56 Goodge Street
London W1T 4NB

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Banh Mi Bay, London

i was really impressed by the takeaway i got from banh mi bay’s outlet along rathbone place (off charlotte street) last term, so it was with pretty high hopes that i checked out their sit-down branch at holborn last week. am glad to say that those hopes were not dashed!

paid their outlet along theobalds road a visit on a friday night around 8, and it was packed (and rightly so)! we joined the queue for a table and thankfully did not have to wait long before we were ushered to one. the restaurant isn’t very big, but definitely has sufficient tables for a relatively fast turnaround time i believe! service after being seated was not great though (water only came at the end of our meal after we had asked multiple times since the beginning); but i guess that is to be expected of somewhere so popular and crowded on a friday night.

the menu was too extensive and spread out over too many pages for me to take pictures of, but i snapped some shots of their takeaway menu scrawled on blackboards (note the super reasonable takeaway prices; the dine-in prices are a little more but still very reasonable!):
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having just visited hanoi over the christmas break, i was super excited to see banh xeo (this amazing super thin crispy pancake) on the menu – it was by far my family’s favourite food discovery of our trip! didn’t order it at banh mi bay this time though, because it felt more like a summer rolls-kind of night 😉 (but i will definitely be back to try the banh xeo).

we ordered a serving of summer rolls to share, and i had a bun vermicelli noodle salad with chargrilled pork (another of my favourites in hanoi) while my friend had the rare beef pho. the food came quickly which was great because we were pretty hungry by then and the amazing smell of viet food in the air did nothing to quell our stomachs’ complaints.

summer rolls – £4.40

the summer rolls were nothing outstanding or exceptional, but were certainly a good rendition of a traditional vietnamese appetiser. as summer rolls should be, they were light and extremely clean-tasting, stuffed with fresh ingredients (sliced pork, tiger prawns, lettuce, rice vermicelli, vietnamese herbs) and wrapped in soft skin. the prawns in the rolls were fresh, sweet and juicy, while the skin was thin and soft but not wet. safe to say that our summer rolls craving was successfully satisfied!

bun vermicelli noodle salad with chargrilled garlic pork – £7.50

i had an amazing bowl of something similar to this in hanoi (bun bo nam bo), from this hole-in-the-wall stall that just sold that one dish, and was the proud recipient of a tripadvisor certificate of excellence. have been craving it ever since, and was quite pleased to find that banh mi bay does a decent version of it, especially considering the fact that we are miles and miles away from hanoi. firstly it must be highlighted that the bowl was HUGE. not sure if you can tell from the picture, but it was really rather big and full of vietnamese goodness! you pour the sauce (like a salad dressing) all over the noodle and mix everything together to give you this:
20140117_200731okay i realise it doesn’t look super appetising, but trust me, it is good stuff. and really healthy too! plenty of veggie and so light and clean-tasting, but certainly not lacking in meat too. the chargrilled pork with garlic was delicious – it was tender, super well-marinated and so very tasty, and they were really generous with the amount they gave. in fact, i finished most of the vegetables and noodle even before i finished the pork! which is not usually the case, but i’m definitely not complaining. i would have liked more peanuts for that added crunch, but besides that, this was definitely good enough to make me a happy girl. really worth it for the price – i can see why banh mi bay has appeared so many times on lists of cheap eats in london!

rare beef pho – £7.50

my friend ordered the rare beef pho and again i think its not very clear in the photo, but the serving was BIG. the bowl was pretty huge and they were generous with both the pho as well as the beef. the beef was thinly sliced and tender, but the piping hot soup was definitely the highlight of the dish – light and extremely tasty, and not too oily or heavy in taste at all. the perfect dish for a cold winters night!

they didn’t have any very exciting desserts so our meal ended there, but we were still more than satisfied with dinner and its huge servings of legit vietnamese fare! love how there’s a takeaway outlet so close to me; its the perfect place to pick up yummy lunch as a mid-day pick-me-up 🙂 i’ve tried the bay special baguette before (pate, spiced pork and pork roll) and i remember it as being pretty delicious too!

oh and my friend who i had all this yummy food with was leaving for glasgow the next day and wanted to take away dinner from there to have on the train… i think banh mi bay’s definitely just earned themselves another fan 😉

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Banh Mi Bay

4-6 Theobalds Road, Holborn
London WC1X 8PN20140117_194425

ps. good food is always made even better with great company:
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soul sister/partner-in-crime/the straw to my berry/the apple to my pie